Tuple Data Structure in Python

November 25, 2020

A tuple is an ordered collection of items. An ordered collection keeps the items in the order you insert or initialize them. In other words, the order is preserved. This is in contrast to dictionaries or sets, where the order is not preserved (unordered collections).

Tuples are like lists but vary in the following aspects: They are immutable, (we cannot change them) unlike lists which are mutable (we can change them). Let us learn more about tuples and their related methods. We’ll also learn to effectively use them in Python.

For more background on the different data structures in Python, check out the following articles:

Note: Prerequisites – Make sure you have basic Python knowledge before diving into this article. It also might be a good idea to check out some linear data structures. (links are given above)

Table of Contents

Tuples: Let’s Code

As we discussed, a Tuple is a collection of items that are immutable. Let’s start by creating a tuple.

Creating a Tuple

A tuple can be created in multiple ways. The simplest way of creating a tuple is by setting a variable to a pair of empty parantheses.

# Set the tuple1 variable to an empty tuple
tuple1 = ()

# Check if the tuple is initialized properly

# Output : <class 'tuple'>

The code above snippet gives an output of <class: 'tuple'>, which indicates that the tuple has been created successfully. We can also create a tuple by using the in-built tuple() method in Python.

# Set the tuple2 variable to an empty tuple by using the tuple() method
tuple2 = tuple()

# Check if the tuple is initialized properly

# Output : <class 'tuple'>

While initializing a tuple, we can also specify what data exists inside it.

# tuple3 consists of values 40, 50, 60
tuple3 = (40, 50, 60)

# tuples can also consist of different datatypes
tuple4 = (45, "55", "Hello World", True, 42.6)

# we can also create a tuple of lists
tuple5 = ([10, 20], [30, 40], [50, 60])

Accessing Items in a Tuple

Tuples follow zero indexing. In zero indexing, the first element of the tuple has the index ‘0’, the second element of the tuple has the index ‘1’, and so on.

Positive Indexing

For example, let’s create a tuple, tuple1. Tuple elements can be accessed the same way as a list element.

tuple1 = (0, 1, 2, 3)

print(tuple1[0]) # Output: 0

print(tuple1[1]) # Output: 1

This tuple follows zero indexing.

Tuple Positive Indexing

Tuple Positive Indexing: Source – GeeksforGeeks

Negative Indexing

Similar to lists, we can also use negative indexing on a tuple. Therefore, ‘-1’ refers to the Nth element of a tuple, -2 refers to the (N-1)th element, and so on (where N is the length of the tuple).

tuple1 = (30, 40, 50, 60)

print(tuple1[-1]) # Output: 60

print(tuple1[-3]) # Output: 40

Tuple Negative Indexing

Tuple Negative Indexing


In Python, slicing is used to return a range of values. Like lists, tuples can also be sliced.

tuple1 = (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13)

print(tuple1[0:3]) # Output: (1, 2, 3)

print(tuple1[4:]) # Output: (8, 13)

As per the examples shown above, if we slice a range of [a : b), it would return from tuple index a to tuple index (b - 1). For more tricks on Python slicing, check out this page.

Modifying Tuples

Tuples are immutable.

For example:

tuple1 = (2000, 3000, 4000)

tuple1[1] = 1000

If we execute the code above, the Python interpreter throws the following error:

Traceback (most recent call last):
    File "main.py", line 3 in <module>
        tuple1[1] = 1000
TypeError: 'tuple' object does not support item assignment

This is because a tuple is designed to be immutable. However, we can change a tuple that contains mutable objects.

For example, let us take a tuple of lists.

tuple1 = ([10, 20], [30, 40], [50, 60])

tuple1[1][0] = 70

print(tuple1) # Output: ([10, 20], [70, 40], [50, 60])

This works perfectly because we are modifying the list within a tuple (which is mutable). We can also create new tuples from existing ones.

tuple1 = ([10, 20], [30, 40], [50, 60])
tuple2 = ([100, 200], [300, 400])

# Creating a new tuple from tuple1 and tuple2
tuple3 = tuple1 + tuple2

print(tuple3) # Output: ([10, 20], [30, 40], [50, 60], [100, 200], [300, 400])

Tuple Methods

Tuples have the following in-built methods that make them extremely powerful:

  • cmp(tuple1, tuple2)
  • len(tuple)
  • min(tuple)
  • max(tuple)
  • tuple(list)
  • t.count(el)
  • t.index(el)
cmp(tuple1, tuple2)

Note: The cmp() method existed in python2. It wasn’t included in python3. Therefore we define our own compare method.

The compare method analyses two tuples element by element.

It compares them and returns the following:

  • If tuple1 > tuple2: the method returns 1.
  • If tuple2 > tuple1: the method returns -1.
  • If tuple1 == tuple2: the method returns 0.
def cmp(t1, t2):
    return bool(t1 > t2) - bool(t1 < t2)
    When both tuples are equal,
        bool(t1 > t2) = 0
        bool(t1 < t2) = 0
        Therefore, 0 - 0 = 0

    When both tuple1 > tuple2,
        bool(t1 > t2) = 1
        bool(t1 < t2) = 0
        Therefore, 1 - 0 = 1

    When both tuple2 > tuple1,
        bool(t1 > t2) = 0
        bool(t1 < t2) = 1
        Therefore, 0 - 1 = -1
tuple1 = (100, 200)
tuple2 = (300, 400)

print(cmp(tuple1, tuple2))
# Output: -1

print(cmp(tuple2, tuple1))
# Output: 1

tuple1 = (100, 200)
tuple2 = (100, 200)

print(cmp(tuple2, tuple1))
# Output: 0

tuple1 = (100, 300)
tuple2 = (200, 100)

print(cmp(tuple2, tuple1))
# Output: 1
# This is because the tuple comparison is done left to right. When tuple2[0] > tuple1[0], no further comparisons are made and the output is returned as zero. This is how the cmp() method works in Python.

The length method returns the length of the tuple.

tuple1 = (10, 20, 30, 40, 50)

# Output: 5

The min method returns the smallest element in the tuple.

tuple1 = (3, 9, 1, 90, 200)

# Output: 1

The max method returns the largest element in the tuple.

tuple1 = (3, 9, 1, 90, 200)

# Output: 200

The tuple method converts the list that is passed as parameter into a tuple.

list1 = [23, 34, 45, 56]

# Output: (23, 34, 45, 56)

The count method returns the count of the element passed as parameter.

tuple1 = (1, 24, 45, 54, 6, 34, 24)

# Output: 2

The index method returns the index of the first occurence of the element in a tuple.

tuple1 = (1, 24, 45, 54, 6, 34, 24)

# Output: 0

You can also return the index of the last occurence of the element by using this method.

tuple1 = (1, 24, 45, 54, 6, 34, 24)

print(tuple1.index(24, -1))
# Output: 6
# The second parameter specifies which index to start the search from
# -1 refers to the last element in the tuple, so it searches in reverse

It’s also possible to specify a range to search.

tuple1 = (1, 24, 45, 54, 24, 6, 34, 24)

print(tuple1.index(24, 2, 5))
# Output: 4
# The second paramter is the starting index, third parameter is the ending index

Applications of Tuples

  • Tuples are especially used as protection against modification. Since they are immutable, we can use tuples to write-protect data.

  • When iterating over a tuple, a considerable performance gain is observed when we compare it to lists. This is more evident when the size of the tuple is large. Using the timeit module in Python, we see that tuples are considerably faster to iterate when compared to lists.

Tuple Performance

Note: For more in-depth analysis of why tuples perform better, check out this StackOverflow thread.

  • The dictionary data structure has an immutable key. Therefore tuples can be used as a key in a dictionary.

  • Tuples can be used to group related data. For example, a row in a database table can be grouped together and stored in a tuple.

Further Reading

We have looked at the tuple data structure, its implementation and methods. To get a better grip with tuples, take a look at these resources. You can find more about tuples in the Python official documentation.

Peer Review Contributions by: Lalithnarayan C

About the author

Saiharsha Balasubramaniam

Saiharsha Balasubramaniam is a senior undergrad, majoring in Computer Science at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, India. He is also a passionate software developer and an avid researcher. He designs and develops aesthetic websites, and loves blockchain technology. Currently, he is an SDE Intern at Flipkart and a Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador.

This article was contributed by a student member of Section's Engineering Education Program. Please report any errors or innaccuracies to enged@section.io.